In a report published Wednesday, Brussels said the nations ran disinformation campaigns inside the EU about COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly referred to as the novel coronavirus.
“Foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighborhood, and globally,” the European Commission said in a statement.
The European Commission’s comments underscore the bloc’s concerns about the prevalence of misleading news on COVID-19 and the attempts by foreign actors to influence Europe. It also marks the first time the EU has publicly named Beijing as a source of disinformation.
“Such coordination [by third country actors] reveals an intention to use false or misleading information to cause harm,” the new strategy paper read.
The bloc’s executive authority said in the report that the two nations sought to simultaneously enhance their own image and “undermine democratic debate” by running disinformation campaigns about the CCP virus.
The European Commission’s Vice President for Values and Transparency, Vĕra Jourová, said during a news conference in Brussels Wednesday that disinformation harms both “the health of our democracies,” and “the health of our citizens.”
“It would be too dangerous not to act,” Jourová said. “It can negatively impact the economy and undermine the response of the public authorities and therefore weaken the health measures.”
“I believe if we have evidence we should not shy away from naming and shaming,” she continued.
“What we also witnessed is a surge in narratives undermining our democracies and in effect our response to the crisis, for example the claim there are secret U.S. biological laboratories on former Soviet republics has been spread by both pro-Kremlin outlets, as well as Chinese officials and state media.”
“I strongly believe that a geopolitically strong EU can only materialize if we are assertive,” Jourová added.
She also urged online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google to provide monthly reports on their fight against disinformation, as part of wider measures to stem the spread of misleading content.
The report states that there has been an “unprecedented infodemic” that has fed on “people’s most basic anxieties,” as the CCP virus pandemic has meant more people have been socially confined, and used social media to obtain information.
“Given the novelty of the virus, gaps in knowledge have proven to be an ideal breeding ground for false or misleading narratives to spread,” the commission said.
Reuters contributed to this report.